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Book Name: The Children's Book

Author: A. S. Byatt

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Overall Rating: (3.82/5) View all reviews (total 45 reviews)

Byatt's overstuffed latest wanders from Victorian 1895 through the end of WWI, alighting on subjects as diverse as puppetry, socialism, women's suffrage and the Boer War, and suffers from an unaccountably large cast. The narrative centers on two deeply troubled families of the British artistic intelligentsia: the Fludds and the Wellwoods. Olive Wellwood, the matriarch, is an author of children's books, and their darkness hints at hidden family miseries. The Fludds' secrets are never completely exposed, but the suicidal fits of the father, a celebrated potter, and the disengaged sadness of the mother and children add up to a chilling family history. Byatt's interest in these artists lies with the pain their work indirectly causes their loved ones and the darkness their creations conceal and reveal. The other strongest thread in the story is sex; though the characters' social consciences tend toward the progressive, each of the characters' liaisons are damaging, turning high-minded talk into sinister predation. The novel's moments of magic and humanity, malignant as they may be, are too often interrupted by information dumps that show off Byatt's extensive research. Buried somewhere in here is a fine novel.(Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Reviews from Brizmus Blogs Books

by A. Baker "brizmus"

Those of you that have been following my reviews for a long time know that I have a very interesting relationship with the Man Booker Prize. Occasionally I read something TOTALLY awesome that won this award, but in general, I find I'm just disappointed. Man Booker and I don't get along.I had heard, though, that the books that are short-listed for the Man Booker prize have a tendency to be awesome, almost as if they choose the worst of the bunch. I therefore able to overlook the words "Man Booker Shortlisted" on the cover of the Children's Book when I started it. It looked awesome, and that was enough for me.Well, let's just say, I can see why it was nominated. It was full of quite a few of the things I have come to associate with winners of the Man Booker prize: flowery language that is sometimes beautiful but sometimes seems as if it is there just to confuse you, so many redundancies and repetitions that you often feel as if you must be having deja vu, and an incredible lack of any semblance of a plot.That said, if those are things that indicate a Man Booker WINNER, I can also see why this book didn't win. The language is incredibly complicated and flowery, but it's also so beautifully written that, if ever you feel confused, it doesn't really matter. It's just so nice to be reading her fluid, gorgeous prose. And then there is the fact that, coupled with this is the occasional portion of a children's story, written in a completely different but equally magnificent style. I think it is a testimony to Byatt's talent as a writer that she is able to write skillfully in two completely different ways and have them mesh together so seamlessly and fluidly.As for the lack of a plot, while it sometimes made the book a bit difficult to read, as I didn't always care about what was going to be happening, it wasn't important. Because "the Children's Book" wasn't so much the telling of a story, but the telling of a family, an intricate look at their relationships, their lives, and children growing up. Their story itself is the plot, and it spans over almost a lifetime. Following the characters, especially the children, as they grow up and react to the things that happen in their lives and the lies and truths that their parents tell them, is intriguing and engaging for any reader. I think there is at least one story line for everyone.But there are too many story lines. I feel like Byatt tried to do more with this book than was possible in just one book. There were so many characters and so many subplots, and it left me feeling overwhelmed. Especially because, while most of these subplots were interesting, there were some that left me completely indifferent. They weren't well-developed, they were slightly uninteresting, and I often forgot about them when they weren't being told, which made it hard for me to follow. In the end, some of my favorite story lines weren't concluded, loose strings were left untied, almost as if Byatt herself forgot about these story lines.Because of this, the redundancies and repetitions were, in a way, actually a good thing. Because SO MUCH was going on that it was sometimes hard to remember what had happened or who was who that having it occasionally repeated was helpful. But the redundancies also occurred on a smaller level. Sometimes I felt like there were three sentences in a row saying the same thing, and it just seemed totally unnecessary.Then there was the setups. First, politics. I feel like maybe I was missing out on something, like there was something I should be getting that I just didn't because of some sort of political ignorance. I mean, in the 1800s, did anarchists and socialists get along? I tend to think of anarchy and socialism as being on two totally opposite ends of the political spectrum, and I feel like Byatt referred to them so easily and nonchalantly in the same sentence that it made it seem as if they're almost the same thing. Other than that, I feel like she spent SO MUCH time setting up background information, giving us an idea of what was happening at the time so that we could understand the characters and how they were and their reactions to things. It was good in that it did help me to have a better understanding of WHO all of the characters were and why they were that way, but it was also too much. So much of the story got lost in the endless backstory that had very little to do with the actual story, and it was hard to filter out what was necessary and what was only there to seem interesting. Her detailed summaries of British history were fascinating and well-written, but they did sometimes seem out of place.Overall, this was a beautifully well-written book, but I wouldn't say it is for your average reader. It's a challenge to read, and it will make you sit up and think just when you were thinking you could stop thinking. In the end, I would say that I did enjoy this book (though I would have liked for more things to be tied up and for the overwhelming sadness I felt at the end to have SOME compensation), and I'm glad that I took the time to really savour it as opposed to trying to rush through it. If you're planning on reading it, I advise you to do the same.If you're a patient reader and you like beautiful language, this book could be for you! It's a long book that will make you think, and you need to treat it as such, taking the time to really understand what's underneath the surface of the families involved.

fascinating, accomplished oeuvre

by Aleksandra Nita-Lazar

"The Children's Book" is a wonderful novel. I am not sure if I can describe (although I will try) all my thoughts about this amazingly complex, detailed, beautifully written and knowledgeable novel, which is at the same time an epic portrait of a generation, a study of an era, and a cornucopia of great characters and attitudes.The time is the break of Victorian and Edwardian epochs, until the end of WW1 (the novel spans more than two decades, from 1895 to 1919). The language is appropriately adjusted. The prose of "The Children's book" deserves to be mentioned, it is rich, lively, there are always most accurate words for the descriptions of objects, people, landscapes as well as feelings and subtle psychological nuances. There is a lot of word play (I am sure more than I discovered - one of many reasons why I think I will go back to this novel many more times), also with use of other languages. Most important events of the time are described (like the great rendering of the International Exposition in Paris, 1900)For example, the family central to the story, the Wellwoods, lives in Todefright, which can, obviously and ironically, (considering the plot developments) be seen as "Fear of Death". Olive Wellwood, a successful writer of children's stories, is based on the English writer Edith Nesbit. Her husband Humphry is a womanizer, (they have an open marriage - not necessarily, as we can see, a recipe for happiness) who left his job at the bank because of his political views. Both Olive and Humphry are socialists, trying to live according to the rules of the Fabian Society, and most of their friends are from these circles. They have seven children, and the two eldest, Tom and Dorothy, are described in most detail. The other families, the relatives, neighbors and friends of the Wellwoods, also have children, who interact on a regular basis, forming friendships and love relationships.The plot begins when Olive visits her friend, Prosper Cain, who is a curator of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and during the visit her son - Tom and Prosper's son - Julian discover a runaway boy, Philip, who has been hiding in the museum and skillfully sketching the exhibits. Olive takes Philip home, and when his talent and wish to be an artist potter are discovered, he becomes an apprentice of the eccentric neighbor potter, Benedict Fludd.The first occasion to meet most of the characters is the annual Midsummer feast hosted by the Todefright Wellwoods, and later all of them are followed in a meandering, digressive, detailed, wise and ambitious plot.There are, typical for Byatt, incestuous, twisted family relations (known from "Angels and Insects", for example), theme of children of parents - successful artists ("The Shadow of The Sun") and the topics she always comes back to - art, society and family relations, personal freedom. Also, a very English connection to nature is always present - Tom, a real boy who never grows up (does his name refer also to Tom Bombadil?) is most connected to the woods and the destruction of his treehouse is a decisive event, but most of the others are at least nature-observers, from the artist Philip, who decorates his pots with plant and animal images, to Dorothy, whose fascination with biology evolves into her medical vocation.The book contains massive amount of information, can be treated as a source of knowledge about the times it is set in, including subjects, which were then considered taboo and cannot be found in the books from the era; "The Children's Book" is at the same time thoroughly contemporary, postmodern (somehow, the echoes of John Fowles and "The Magus" are there as well) despite being also deeply rooted in the XIX-century novel tradition.The themes I would like to mention as the ones which I most reflected upon, are two (of many that could be discussed): coming of age; and, feminism.Of course, coming of age is a theme suggested already by the title. How to become yourself being a child of artists, accomplished, creative, colorful, eccentric parents, and not to live in their shadow? How to find out what you do best? How to make a living doing what you love and rise beyond class? The many children in the novel are very different from each other, presenting a variety of personalities: pragmatic, romantic, dreamy, doubtful, daring, shy, reserved... Their problems are also very real and universal, although at the same time reflecting the characteristics of the period.The feminist and suffrage movement is depicted in "The Children's Book" from many angles, from details of its history in England, with names of the main representatives, to personal attitudes of women: fight for personal freedom, sexual (Olive, Marian, Florence; somehow also Violet) and intellectual (Dorothy, Elsie), and to active, passionate participation in the movement (Hedda).I was fascinated by this book ("enjoyed" is too small a word; I really loved it), I savored it, I liked many characters, intensely disliked some (Herbert Methley), some were irritating (Benedict and Seraphita Fludd), some ambiguous (Humphry, Olive, Violet), all deeply human. My favorite female character was Dorothy, and male - Prosper Cain and Phillip Warren.Are there too many characters and threads? Not at all, comparing to Dickens, Victorian novel, and any saga or society novel. There are many characters, fictional and real, but at the time none are papery, all have psychological depth and are real. Constantly changing points of view make the book more intriguing, and weaving the individual perspectives of the characters together with the background information and details from European history, art history, techniques of writing, pottery, jewelry making, student life, and the magical children's stories, erudite references to the myths, legends and fairy tales transform it into a masterpiece. There is enough romance in all configurations to captivate the emotions of the reader. The novel is also not too long - it is delightfully long! I wanted to read on and on and I was genuinely upset that I had to putt he book down when the mesmerizing story ended. I agree that the comparisons to "Possession" are out of place, just because this is a completely different novel - but it is equally good (and equally well can be made into a film). One of the best books I have read this year.

Books for the children and a civilization that is about to end

by A. T. A. Oliveira "A. T. A. Oliveira"

A. S. Byatt's latest novel, "The Children's Book", takes off with a section called "Beginnings" and ends with a chapter named "Après la Guerre Finie". Compressed between 55 chapters and 600-plus pages are some lives, about 25 years, a historical panorama, besides love, births, deaths, gossip, fun, betrayals, bastards and secrets - what is more than any reader could ask for. The size of the book may put some people off, but, once you get started, it is unpudownable due to the writer's ability to create plots and characters that worth to care about.It is not something new that Byatt is able to create whole new worlds and lives. Just check her Booker Prize winner "Possession", in which she came up not only with poets, but also their distinguished poetry. In that novel narrative moved forward and backward in the past and the present to intertwine two stories of lost love and letters. In "The Children's Book" the plot always unfolds straightly, always in the present. The reader witnesses the events in the moment they happen, the secrets in the moment they uncovered and so on. However set about a hundred years ago, we can easily related to the people who populate this book. Not a single one feels like a flat character - they have depth and complex, and never sound like a fictional creation, since details about their lives are abundant.As it has been exploited in literature and cinema, one of the points in this novel is the place of fiction and fantasy in our daily lives. One of the main characters is Olive Wellwood, a writer of fiction for her sons and daughters filled with fantasy and dreams. She has also written a single book for her own children - some of these books are not - and will never be - finished because she adds more events from time to time. The reader follows the lives of her kids - and the people who surround them, from the late 19th Century until the end of the First World War.Byatt is a writer who deals with the influence of the historical moment in the lives of people - specially, of course her characters. Throughout this book, we run into information about society, economy and arts. These pieces of information are not, however, dispersed by chance. They emerge linked to the narrative. At once, one, before start reading, may suspect this is device slows down the narrative - or is even boring. One couldn't be more wrong. By including these pieces of information, Byatt brings details that make the narrative more vivid, more real.Despite being sometimes so immersed in their lives, most of these characters are able to see that times were changing. Some of them are able - or even want to - follow the new order. Others are stuck in the past, living inside strange children's book filled with fantasy, darkness and dreams.

disappointingly slow and surprisingly inelegant

by B. Capossere

I've been a fan of Byatt's work ever since Possession, one of my favorite all-time works. I've had varied success with her other works, though it's always varied in degree of enjoyment--some I found marvelous, others solidly enjoyable. I looked forward keenly to The Children's Book because it was another dense, historical work with artistry at much of its center, including an E. Nesbit-like author (Nesbit being one of my favorites). I have to admit I was roundly disappointed.Simply put, the book just didn't compel. I found myself pushing forward as if reading it were a chore, waiting for that moment when things would turn and the book would sweep me along, whether it do so via plot or character or style. It never happened. I won't go into the plot (there's a lot) save to say it wasn't particularly compelling as an overall arc or in individual scenes (a few had their moments but there weren't enough). And the plot was often bogged down by awkward infodumps where the style would shift to an almost encyclopedic entry on the time period in question. I'm all for historical detail and digression, but these felt clumsy and disconnected, more professorial (and a dull professor at that) than authorial. The characters, most of them, had rich potential that never seemed fully realized. They should have been more compelling than they were. Part of the problem is the sheer number of them, meaning we frequently leave one character for another and sometimes for long periods of time, making it difficult to really attach oneself to them. And finally, the style itself was often surprisingly inelegant for Byatt with relatively few memorable or striking lines for such a long work.The book does pick up in intensity and effect toward the end, but to be honest, by then I was pretty weary of it. I didn't expect Children's to match the joy of Possession, but I also didn't expect it to be a joyless read entirely.

Chaotic and Solipsistic

by Bonnie Brody "Book Lover and Knitter"

Let me preface this review by acknowledging how much I loved Possession: A Romance. I loved it so much that I've read it twice and listened to it on tape. I could read it again and again. As much as I loved Possession, I disliked this book. It has no cohesiveness and leads nowhere except in a solipsistic circle.The novel is a sprawling tome of close to 700 pages that starts in 1895 and ends in the early 20th century at the time of World War I. It is primarily about the Wellwood family, a progressive family that experiments with Theosophy, Socialism, Fabianism and the like - - in a time of Victorian and Edwardian beliefs. Olive Wellwood is the matriarch of the family as well as a well-known writer of children's fairy tales. She has several children, all living in an idyllic setting of verdant landscaping and greenery ripe for exploration.I loved Olive's fairy tales more than I loved the contents of the novel itself. One fairy tale that touched me is about a little boy named Perkins. Because he is chubby in his infancy, he is given the loving name of Pig. However, this nickname becomes more of a criticism as Pig grows up to be clumsy, oppositional and defiant. His mother, after Pig has accidentally thrown marbles all over the kitchen floor, tells him to go out and not come back. Pig listens to her and leaves the house, taking with him his favorite rock with a hole (or eye) in its middle. He goes to a maze and wanders through it getting very lost. He finally looks through his rock and sees a tiny woman who goes down a little hole in the ground to a community of people like her. Pig finds out how to become little and join these people. He is welcomed and given a fine place in their society. They rename him Poutin. His mother comes looking for him and finds Pig's rock beside the hole. She calls down to Pig who tells her he left because she told him to. She says she didn't mean it but Poutin says he'll visit her some time in the future. She leaves feeling very sad.The novel begins with two boys in a large British museum. They are watching a third boy, Phillip, who is busily drawing and appears to be very talented. One of the watching boys is part of the Wellwood clan and the Wellwoods end up taking the young artist, a street urchin who has been living in the museum, home. He is wined and dined and cleaned. Phillips dream is to create pots. He is given new clothes and ultimately, apprenticed to a manic depressive potter named Fludd. The Fludd house is a wierd place where Fludd's moods dominate and the wife and two daughters are almost like automatons. In a way, this apprenticeship is a dream for Phillip who has always wanted to create pots and work with clay. He comes from a life of poverty where his mother painted pots and is very sick from lead and dust poisoning.The rest of the book is about secrets such as who fathered who, who has had affairs with whom and the like. The book travels in circles and truly goes nowhere. The one exquisite, yet drawn out part of the book is Byatt's descriptions of EVERYTHING. Whether the landscape, art, clothing, etc. she is drawn to the exquisite detail or minutiae of description that probably takes up half the book. Perhaps without all of this description I could have felt closer to the book itself, but as it is written, it just made things crawl along and made me antsy. There are also many characters in this book, mostly connected in some extraneous way. The reader gets to know the characters in a surface way but other than Phillip, there were none I felt deeply connected to.I am very disappointed by this book and my response to it. I had been looking forward to it so much and when it was offered in Vine I grabbed it up. This is the first book I've read by Byatt that I did not like. I hope her future books are like the predecessors to this one.

Another Winnning novel by A. S. Byatt

by BookManBookWoman TV REVIEWS "Saralee Terry Woods"

"Another superbly written work by the author of Possession. This runaway view of reality and art in pre-World War I England and Europe will dazzle you."

Will Deeply Engage Readers Both Emotionally and Intellectually

by Bookreporter

A. S. Byatt's new novel, THE CHILDREN'S BOOK, will inevitably draw comparisons with her Booker Prize-winning POSSESSION: A Romance, considered by many to be her finest (or, at least, her most commercially successful) work. Although some of the comparisons are justified --- both rely on mythic and fairy tale elements to underscore plot and theme --- THE CHILDREN'S BOOK is far less an exploration of individuals and of individual relationships than it is of a whole time and place as viewed through the lens of one particular family and their host of acquaintances.The time and place is England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, bridging the transition between the Victorian and Edwardian ages. The family is the large Wellwood clan, headed by the writer Olive Wellwood and her husband Humphrey. Humphrey has made a successful career as a banker, but is derailed by his desire to revile his employer in pseudonymous articles written for socialist publications. As Humphrey reinvents himself as a successful writer and social critic, Olive comes under increasing financial pressure to support the family by writing immensely popular fantasy fiction for young people, inspired not only by the fairy tales of Grimm and others but also by their idyllic country house, Todefright, and by her own brood of children.Just as Olive constructs imaginary worlds on paper, she also constructs a "reality" of her family's life: "The woods, the Downs, the lawn, the hearth, the stables were a real reality, kept in being by continuous inventive willpower. In weak moments she thought of her garden as the fairytale palace the prince or princess must not leave on pain of bleak disaster. They were inside a firewall, outside which grim goblins mopped and mowed. She had made, had written, this world with the inventive power with which she told her stories." As the novel progresses, readers discover just how tenuous this family's reality is and the kinds of secrets that are masked by the image projected to the outside world.That image is largely one of art, a self-consciously Bohemian identity that is introduced masterfully in one of the novel's opening chapters, a brilliant account of the family's annual midsummer party at which the family and their assembled guests (nearly all of whom will go on to play their own roles in the drama that unfolds) play parts in a Shakespearean play. The heady mix of childhood fantasy, art-making and thinly veiled sexual desire sets the stage for everything that is to follow, which includes long-buried family secrets, life-changing encounters, and an abundance of children trying to find their way either within or deliberately outside of their parents' idealistic, assertively creative lifestyle.This generation of children, Byatt argues compellingly through literary and historical example, had a particularly difficult time with this process, given as their elders were to maintaining permanently childlike sensibilities, engaging in youthful fantasies, conducting frivolous entertainments, and writing literature ostensibly aimed at children but also read by adults. It's no wonder that a character such as Olive's oldest son, Tom, is tragically altered forever by his one attempt to follow convention by heading to boarding school, an experience that causes him to retreat from society permanently: "He had sensed that the Garden of England was a garden through a looking-glass, and had resolutely stepped through the glass and refused to return. He didn't want to be a grown-up." Of course, as Byatt reminds us, in the shattering closing chapters of the novel, the Great War was looming on the horizon, forcing members of all the generations that lived through it to grow up despite themselves.There's no doubt that Byatt's latest, like many of her most accomplished novels, poses intellectual challenges for the reader. She often draws back from her own plots to place them in historical and literary context, not only littering the narrative with encounters with real-life figures (including the anarchist Emma Goldman, the playwright Oscar Wilde and the sculptor Auguste Rodin) but also pausing to reflect on the place of all this in the larger philosophical and aesthetic debates of England and the Continent during this time period. It's tempting to think of THE CHILDREN'S BOOK, then, as primarily a "novel of ideas," an exploration of those debates in fictional guise. But that's not it at all.Byatt's genius lies in combining these big ideas with a story that, although far-reaching and in many ways unconventional, is nevertheless a ripping good tale of a family's journey from innocence (or something like it) to experience. Her painstaking utilization of detail, her exploration of key characters' inner lives and aspirations, her trademark use of stories within stories to underscore character, plot and theme --- all these things ground THE CHILDREN'S BOOK in storytelling as firmly as it is rooted in literary and historical theory and make the novel one that will deeply engage readers both emotionally and intellectually.--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl

A small personal perspective

by Brendan Moody

When I thought about reviewing The Children's Book I figured I'd take an intellectual tack, address the common complaint about excessive period detail in terms of Byatt's literary intentions and modern expectations about the scope of the novel. But other people have made those points, as well as I could have and probably better. So I'm going to do something different.The back-and-forth in other reviews on Byatt's use of detail may create the impression that, for better or for worse, this will be a difficult book, the sort of thing that feels like work even for those who appreciate its intentions and admire its depth. For some readers this will of course be true. But others will have an experience like mine: loving The Children's Book for pure pleasure of reading, flying through 425 pages in a single day, staying up until 5:00 AM to finish the book and feeling emotionally devastated in the best possible way afterward.The historical detail was part of this. One might get the impression from some of the reviews that Byatt just throws random facts in to show off that she's done a lot of research. In fact the detail, while extensive, is shaped by Byatt so that it both reveals the aspects of life in that era that interest her and works as literature. I haven't read enough novels with such ambition; it is, perhaps, out of vogue at present.The characters are fascinating too. I fully respect that the novel's digressive structure makes it difficult for many readers to connect emotionally to the characters' dramas. I had no such trouble. I felt like their stories were worth waiting for, and that a greater superficial tightness of construction would damage their plausibility and undermine the sense of constant incipience that defines the lives of some children and young adults. It is this sense of the reality of the characters' lives that makes their encounter with the brutality of World War I all the more devastating. The thing with novels about war is that their characters are in some sense created to die-- it's hard to create a full sense of who they were and what they wanted from life before the war came. The sudden outbreak of the conflict fifty pages from the end of this 675 page book gives the war a shadow (what more can literature ever give) of its historical terror.I see that these rambling remarks don't add up to much of a review. I hope they'll help someone nonetheless. Here's one more: in response to an interview question on how she wished to be read, Byatt observed in a general context that "Readers should be empowered to skip." If you're thinking about reading The Children's Book but are worried about its length or level of detail, take the plunge. If something bores you, skip it. It's better to read and enjoy part of a book than to fail to read all of it. I think Publishers Weekly was a bit silly in saying "Buried somewhere in here is a fine novel," but if you find you share that impression, feel free to dig around for it.

Brilliant, wonderful, beautiful ...

by Caitlin Martin "addicted to words"

A.S. Byatt always makes me think of Iris Murdoch and I love Iris Murdoch's writing. Byatt's written two books of criticism on Murdoch (thus the connection) and in The Children's Book she has written a most Murdochian novel. It is a sweeping philosophical family saga concerned with the shift from the Victorian to Edwardian era in the runup to World War I. The time period is rich in interesting detail - Fabianism, the Arts and Crafts movement, pastoralism, anarchy, women's suffrage, art nouveau, Jung, and Freud, and German fairy tales - and Byatt tells us all about it in equally rich and beautifully described detail.I suspect that this book probably drove many of its readers a little mad because so much of its plot is buried in its story, but I loved that about it. Byatt uses the period as a large stage set that her characters move through, much like the marionette show in the opening chapters of the novel. The time period is the story, the people and the relationships between them are in their own way as decorative as the pure white pottery glaze developed by Palissy (which is in its own sense a fairy story). In a way, these are all the bits and pieces that add up to a particular kind of fairy tale where the setting is as much a character as the goblins and kobolds.The Edwardian era has always seemed like the golden, perfect summer and fall before the long gray winter of World War I and this novel really captures that. There were large chunks of the last third of the novel that made me cry and by the end I'll admit that I was sobbing. Byatt is as ruthless with her setting and her characters as the trenches were to their inhabitants and that has a powerful resonance.This novel is long and demanding. It requires your full and undivided attention and your commitment, but the returns are in staggering beauty.

backgound, class, and environment

by Case Quarter

a s byatt is one of my favorite authors and i was pleased to read that her new book, the children's hour, was shortlisted for the man booker prize. the first pages are sumptuous and voluptuous, opening with what appears to be a boy's adventure story. two teenaged boys, julian cain and tom wellwood, are in the early victoria and albert museum (in 1895 when the story begins, the museum is the south kensington museum), watching a third boy, about their age, who is pretty much disheveled, drawing the gloucester candlestick (photos at various websites online should be viewed). julian cain introduces the young draughtsman to his father, a widower, the major prosper cain, special keeper of precious metals of the south kensington museum. at the time tom's mother, olive wellwood, the writer of children's books, is visiting the major as part of her research for a new book.impressed by the talent expressed by philip warren, a runaway, olive brings philip to the wellwood house, known as todefright, in the woods, where live her husband, sister, and their several children.the arrival is timed near the wellwood's midsummer party. cynosural, the party introduces in person or by mention the majority of the characters and activities to appear throughout the story. the revelers are part of families. the story is about three families, the cains, the wellwoods, and the fludds, with whom philip comes to live, becoming apprentice to benedict fludd, a mercurial genius potter influenced by bernard palissy, a famous 16th century french potter.the three sections of the book, chronicle the maturation of the young people, some not yet born, others already teenagers, from home life (the golden age) with puppeteers, potters, writers, and a trip to the 1900 great exhibition (the world's fair) in paris, luminaries spotted include oscar wilde, auguste rodin and emma goldman, to the university years (the silver age) of discussions of and exposure to anarchists, fabians, socialists, the women's suffrage and women's rights movements, and the sexual instinct, pretty much introduced by the appearance of a writer, herbert methley, who resembles d h lawrence, to the war years (the age of lead), when the children are adults.the book has a sobering ending, but even before then, some readers will weep.in addition to looking at photos of the gloucester candlestick, a familiarity with the paintings of samuel palmer (also found online), influenced by william blake's paintings, should further enrich the reading experience, particularly regarding the english landscape and the landscape's effect on a couple of the characters.

Not Possession

by Charlus "charlus"

The burden this book has had to bear in being compared to Byatt's Possession is unfair, unnecessary and misleading. Whereas the earlier novel was a masterpiece of mimicry of high Victorian poetry and a witty expose of academia, this is a piece apart. True it is a historical novel about literature and writers but beyond that there are limited similarities."The Children's Book" is a multigenerational novel of the Edwardian Age, that golden era of British children's literature. Byatt presents a large handful of characters who she follows over time and the reader's involvement in the story requires caring about the fates of these characters. But total readerly involvement is inhibited by narrative pauses where Byatt steps out of the role of omniscent Narrator to become essayist on the transitional period of Edwardian to Modern and the traumatic break of World War I. One is reminded of the "history chapters" of "War and Peace" or, less skillfully, the history lessons of the novels of James Michner and Herman Wouk.For this reader she was mostly successful and I read the novel with great interest, willing to pause when Byatt had something interesting to tell that went beyond the fictional parameters of her story. The Edwardian Age holds a special interest for me and so I was predisposed to forgive her any narrative raggedness. So while not as seamless as the earlier novel, I actually found it more involving, in the same way I prefer Forster's "The Longest Journey" to "Howard's End", the latter being a far more polished book but the former having more passionate urgency that hews closer to the writer's heart.

A magical read

by Cloggie Downunder

The Children's Book is the fifth stand-alone novel by British author, Antonia S. Byatt. This novel spans about a quarter of a century, starting in 1895, and tells the story of children's author, Olive Wellwood, her extended family, friends and acquaintances. Against a backdrop of Victorian, then Edwardian then World War One England, Byatt creates a dynasty that is exposed to Imperialists, Socialists, Fabians, Malthusians, Theosophists, and revolutionaries. Jung, Freud, Oscar Wilde, H.G.Wells, Lalique, women's suffrage, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Grande Exposition in Paris all play their part. This family is involved, not just in children's literature, but also pottery, jewellery making, puppeteering, fairy mythology, plays and Art and Craft Summer Camps. Byatt intersperses the narrative with Olive's fiction and, later, poetry by one of the children. As the children of the various families grow and develop, they come to realise that the adults they trust and rely on are not what they seem, and secrets are revealed that change lives. Adultery is rife in this novel, as are births where parentage is suspect; suicides and war deaths take their toll too. Byatt's descriptions are highly evocative: pottery, puppets and nature are almost tangible. The Lalique brooch on the cover of this edition presages the sumptuous work within. A magical read.

Tell Me Where Is Fancy Bred...

by Daniel Myers

Trying to review this book is a bit like trying to review War and Peace. There are simply so many characters, so much going on, so many pots made (Oops, forgot, no pots made in War And Peace.) that one must needs start with a précis: Point 1.) I am a great admirer of A.S. Byatt for her Yorkshire Tetralogy, beginning with The Virgin in The Garden: The books are moving, cerebral, sexual, autobiographical and wrung from hard-won experience. Her po-mo parodistic downfall began with the much-loved, Booker-winning Possession and continues with this book. But I still regard her as the post WWII British writer par excellence for her Tetralogy, so kindly don't dismiss this as a Byatt basher's review. 2.) There is no Pierre, no Natasha in this book. It circles and circles around a group of bohemian characters in late-Victorian, Edwardian England providing us with lush, precise, historically pinpoint descriptions. More than anything, this book resembles a sumptuous banquet, but one in which the first dish is dessert, and the second, and the third---until the last few pages when we are served up the mud of Passchendaele. I think the word is - cloying.There are several terribly interesting themes touched on, but they are merely touched on, not developed so as to engross the reader, likewise with Byatt's hopscotch rendering of the characters. But, I suppose because I invested so much time in this book, I feel compelled to say something about what I regard as the most powerful theme in the book: The thin, ever-shifting line between what is fancied and what is fact. To me, the closest this book comes to having a Pierre is Tom. Tom represents this theme more than any single character. The motif of losing one's shadow, or doppelganger, is the most fascinating in the book. The psychological importance of having a doppelganger or shadowy simulacrum of oneself is that distorted and dark though it be, it is necessary to keep one sane. But one can't ever merge or capture one's doppelganger as Tom attempts in his mother's story - "Tom Underground" - or one will find oneself indeed underground, as in interred, dead. This is what happens to Tom. Like Aeneas, he breaks off the golden bough and descends into his own Underworld. But there is no Sibyl to stay Tom, after his traumatic boarding-school experience, from pursuing the dreams hanging from branches like bats or the shadows of imagined monsters:""Tom saw in his mind's eye gradations of shadowy matter, thicker and thinner reality, coiling like steam from a train or smoke from a chimney, but in the dark, under dark branches, cave sub imagine forma."This interplay of "real" and "imagined" is most pronounced and detailed in Tom, but affects all the characters lives - except, of course, for Dorothy. We must have an exception to the rule, mustn't we?In fact, aside from Tom and Dorothy, the theme is altogether overplayed. Certainly, it is a pleasant, at times interesting read. But everything is overplayed. Everything is pointillistically, too sumptuously described. Everything is over the top. Reading this book is like letting chocolate cherries melt in your mouth one after another. In the end, one simply feels - like the book - bloated.


by David Keymer "David Keymer"

I hadn't read Byatt before, I'm not sure why not, and I approached this novel with trepidation. It's long at 675 pages. There are so many characters in it. The plot spans almost two and a half decades in time, from 1895 to 1919, and the narration breaks off periodically, interrupted by (1) sometimes quite wordy discourses on pottery, puppeteering and the theater, (2) chapter-long summaries of what's happening in the large world at any particular time, and (3) chapter-length extracts from children's stories written by the central character in this many-charactered novel, writer wife and mother Olive Wellwood. But the further I read in it, the harder it was to put down. I wanted to find out what happened to the parents and children of the three interrelated English families whose lives are the subject of this book.The book reminds me Iris Murdoch. It's a long chatty novel about sex and ideas, usually intertwined and frequently inseparable. Most of the characters are protected from harsh reality by position, wealth and education, but they feel guilt over the condition of the poor and some of them actually try to do something about it. They are oh so vulnerable to the ravages of passion, which is the driving engine of much of this big, ambitious novel.There are two other driving forces in this novel. The one is Art, the passion to create. The other is the condition of women. Five hundred pages into the narrative, three cousins -intelligent, concerned young women--one of them is studying to become a doctor--discuss their futures. Griselda tells Florence, "You needn't worry. You are engaged to be married." Florence, who's not sure she wants to marry the man to whom she is engaged, replies, "The truth is that the women we are -have become--are not fit to do without men, or to live with them, in the world as it was. And if we change, and they don't, there will be no help for us. We shall be poor monsters, like viola in Twelfth Night, or Miss Harrison's harpies and gorgons." They raise the question of women's suffrage: "do you think getting the Vote would help?" "It would remove one of the endless humiliating differences between men and women. It might make it possible -in some new world--for the sexes to talk to each other, like people.... Of course we ought to be able to vote. But I don't know that having the vote will affect the things that frighten me."There are enough surprises in this book, some of them sensational, to fill three ordinary novels! People fall in and out of different people's beds, children are born out of wedlock, your parents turn out not to be the parents you thought you had after all, there are intimations of incest and a father tries to force his daughter, a mad man diverts his untamable sex urge into pornographic pottery, people kill themselves out of despair or anger or ennui. Even when narrating the most bizarre happenings, Byatt creates believable and engaging characters, and she is equally adept at portraying women AND men.My advice to the reader starting this novel is: stick with it. It's worth it. This is a superior novel.

Too much of a good thing

by Deborah Barchi

I happen to really enjoy A.S. Byatt's books, so it was with real pleasure that I finally got my hands on a copy of The Children's Book. It's a hefty tome, 675 pages, but who's counting pages when you're really absorbed in a good book?For the first half of the book I was pretty absorbed. I was fascinated by the rich detail about the time period, mostly late Victorian and Edwardian, with the tiniest bit of World War I thrown in at the very end. The story circles around (I intentionally use circle rather than centers around) several families, including the fantasy writer Olive Wellwood and her husband and many children, Prosper Cain and his wife, son and daughter, the mad artist Benedict Fludd and his wife and children, and Philip Warren, an orphan boy who is found hiding in Cain's museum. Oh, and there are also the families of Herbert Methley, and Basil Wellwood, and Anselm Stern, and Philip's sister Elsie, and others too numerous to mention. At times nearly every one of these characters moves center stage so we can follow their various trials and tribulations. Many of these trials seem to involve either the search for a meaningful life or the best way to deal with sexual urges. Naturally, given the times, the sex urges are a bigger problem for the women then for the men, since the men deal with a few pangs of guilt over their seductions and infidelities; whereas the women seem often to be left with unwanted pregnancies as the result of their experiences.Along the way, the book begins to get confusing. There are simply too many characters to keep track of, and I would venture to say that after a while even Byatt grew a little confused. Some characters seemed to be dropped half way through the book; others would suddenly resurface when, frankly, they had long ceased to interest this reader. With so many people to dispose of, the entrance of WWI in the plot was probably a relief to the writer who could then conveniently dispose of at least a few of them.Adding to the book's size, but I'm afraid not to its effectiveness, were many long discursive chapters which read almost as addendum to the story. In these chapters Byatt would suddenly stop being a novelist and become instead an historian, filling pages and pages of the book with facts about the time period, especially about the women's suffragette movement and the Fabians. While this information is interesting and would probably make a very intriguing separate book or even film documentary, adding so much information to the body of the novel only slowed the pace and at times made the reading experience more a slog than an invigorating journey.But Byatt is still Byatt, and that is a wonderful thing. So I would suggest this book for anyone willing to give it a lengthy chunk of time.

Fractured Fairytale

by Diana F. Von Behren "reneofc"

A.S. Byatt writes her heart out in this ambitious nearly 700-page work detailing expertly the period of time in Britain's history between the late Victorian Era in 1895 to the aftermath of World War I in 1919.Byatt's protagonists dream impossible dreams about a utopian world that flitters with a childlike fascination of fairytales and back-to-nature alternatives that combat the industrialization of the age. The plot's older generation waxes ersatz-Rousseauian and the universe they create seems representative of their ideas on the surface. However, beneath the ideal: bohemian cottages in the country, relaxed ideas regarding sexual freedom and the rise of women as career forces with which to be reckoned lies a harsher brutal reality hinted at in the artwork of Arthur Rackham, (seeThe Arthur Rackham Treasury: 86 Full-Color Illustrations) the famous children's illustrator, that reveals the darker side of the sugar-coated fairy princesses and castles in the sky.Main character, Olive Wellwood, proudly deems herself, as the writer of children's literature (think of E. Nesbet, author of "The Railway Children (Nesbit)" and along with her husband, founder of the Fabian movement,) to be the breadwinner of her odd little family. She and husband Hubert talk the talk, enjoying a free-spirited marriage where their seven children are not aware of whom their actual biological parents are. However, walking the walk presents a different issue for this couple and the equally socialist leaning family of pottery artist Benedict Fludd. As civically minded as these characters claim themselves to be, they epitomize an abject selfishness so debilitating it destroys the lives of their children. Olive, as consummate artist finds inspiration for her stories in the traits and lives of her children. However, as a mother she is unavailable on every level, refusing to see that her children are actual people and not the created characters of her imagination. Fludd, another genius whose work is described in glowing terms of shape and form, uses his family for similar gain--beaten and brutalized they exist only to further his art.In the course of any relationship between parent and child, lies are told and both are misrepresented and misunderstood. Byatt depicts the horrors of such parental deception where offspring expecting the "Never-Grow-Up" whimsy of Peter Pan are incapable of living in and facing the brutal reality and desolation of a world thrown in the bloody turmoil of the Great War.Byatt has a tendency to lecture; she is so well informed about this age that she cannot help but fill her pages with as much detail as possible. Unfortunately, this, at times, breaks the momentum of the story and the reader seems lost in words describing a particular craft or social dogma. Less of this would have been more despite the obvious enthusiasm Byatt has for her subject and brainchild.Bottom line? "The Children's Book" is a long read that looks at the selfish nature of art that takes on a life of its own at the expense of people and relationships. Byatt tends to be a bit verbose in her enthusiasm regarding the minutia of the age that leads to less characterization. Nonetheless, her protagonists are multi-faceted in their display of ego and withdrawal from reality. Recommended,Diana Faillace Von Behren"reneofc"

Tale of a family

by E. A Solinas "ea_solinas"

A.S. Byatt is not the sort of author you read casually -- her prose is thick with atmosphere and symbolism, her books are full of literate and mythic references, and she does a lot of time hopping. And "The Children's Book" -- loosely based on the life of writer E. Nesbit, apparently -- is Byatt's slowly-unfolding tale of the dangers of art and the secrets held by families. It's no "Possession," but it's definitely worth reading.Banker Humphry and children's writer Olive Wellwood live in a large house in Kent along with a large brood of children; they are deeply involved in folklore, Fabianism (a sort of gradual socialist movement) and art. Additionally, they are involved with Humphrey's more "normal" brother, a museum curator named Prosper Cain and his eccentric children, and a weird potter named Benedict Fludd who has a runaway boy brought to him.All seems well on the surface of their colorful little world, but of course the veneer starts cracking like an overbaked pot -- the various families have ugly secrets, both past and present. Even Olive (who writes for children) cannot connect with her own kids, including the child she is pregnant with. The world is changing around them, bringing war, love, social shifts and changes to the various families.Apparently "The Children's Book" was based on Byatt's musings about how 19th-century/early 20th-century children's authors usually had some sort of horrible tragedy associated with them. And in "The Children's Book," it seems like nothing messes up the kids like their artistic parents, no matter what kind of art they pursue -- and there's a bittersweetness that fills the book, since you're left with the feeling that these scars will cripple them.The biggest problem with "The Children's Book" is... it's messy. Gloriously, sublimely messy. Sensual prose ("The glaze was silver-gold, with veilings of aquamarine. The light flowed round the surface, like clouds reflected in water...") and vivid imagery are mingled with infodumps and lectures, as well as hefty chunks of information about the social and literary circles of the day. And like golden thread in a tapestry, Byatt weaves in her considerable store of knowledge.In short: the plot -- such as it is -- sprawls all over the place, and throws out a thousand loose threads. But her velvety prose is almost enough to make up for that. Almost.As for the characters... well, there are a LOT of them. On the first read, I had a little trouble keeping all the myriad kids straight, and repeatedly forgot who one of the secondary characters was. But on the second try, I found myself fascinated by some of the characters, especially the neglectful figures of Olive and Fludd -- she insulates herself from reality by cocooning herself in her stories, and he is a parent/husband from hell whose mad genius has shattered his family."The Children's Book" is one of those grand stories in which fiction, folklore and fact are all united... and then they explode into a messy, luscious piece of work. Not brilliant, but fascinating.

Hard for me to like

by Ellis Bell

The only other of AS Byatt's novel's I've read isPossession: A Romance, which I wasn't so keen on (started it twice; got halfway through the first time and finished the second, but never really enjoyed it). I decided to give Byatt another try with The Children's Book, and I have to say that I wasn't all that impressed with it.To be honest, the book is impressive; it covers the period from 1895 through the first World War, a time when a lot of change was in the air. Byatt bites off a lot in this book, and although it's clear that she's done a lot of research on her subject matter(s), often she often simply dumps information on her reader--I learned a lot more than I ever wanted to about pottery kilns, or the Fabian movement. Byatt introduces way too many characters within the first fifty pages or so, more than I could keep track of (heck, she introduces three of them in the very first sentence!). This prevented me from fully connecting with Byatt's characters. And she gives way too much background information on her characters, way too early (of the "she was born in 1884, and then...." type). I do like back stories, but I'd rather have them unfold slowly as the plot develops.I found it very difficult to kept my attention focused on this novel--it moves very, very slowly, meandering here and there with no real direction. The story jumps from one group of characters to the next, without really explaining to the reader why these people are important to the story. The author's prose is also a bit strong, too, as is her way with dialogue. This was the kind of book where I'd have to read fifty pages or so, put it down and come back to it later. It's not the kind of novel that's so good that I wanted to finish it in one sitting (kind of hard for anyone to do, really; The Children's Book is well over 600 pages long). I know this has been longlisted for the Booker Prize, so I know I should like it in some way (and indeed, I liked the idea), but I'm just not a fan of AS Byatt's novels, I guess.

The Neverending Story

by E. M. Bristol "bibliophile"

I had to admit I was a little daunted when I received this book and discovered it was almost seven hundred pages long. Like the volumes in the Harry Potter series, it can be used as a doorstop or a paperweight. It's also a well-written and fanciful story. It's exceedingly detailed and no outfit, meal, or work of art is left un-elaborated. Also, most of the action takes place in the last section when everyone enlists to help their country in World War I. There are births, deaths, sex, incest, etc., but they are squeezed in between the lavish descriptions of food and clothes, and if you are skimming the latter, you might miss some of the former.There are approximately twenty-five characters, all of whom get a storyline, although many are slight. The matriarch of the clan is Olive Wellwood, who writes children's stories, which are recorded in the book for the reader to enjoy. Most of the characters are creative: poets, pottery makers, puppeteers, etc. All these activities are symbolic with a capital "S". There is also a Fallen Woman with a red belt and a treehouse which gets destroyed - this book is an English teacher's dream. Without giving too much away, some of the characters discover their parents are not who they think. There's resentment and animosity boiling under the surface, but direct confrontations are rare - the characters are mostly passive-aggressive.In addition, there are real life figures who appear in the book, such as Emma Goldman, Oscar Wilde, and Rupert Brooke. A history of children's literature at the time, as well historical facts about the political climate and the women's right movement, which has a direct impact on the book's characters, is given. The end - in which all the characters seem to find The One seemed contrived, but having gone through the war, I guess they deserved some happiness.


by Evelyn A. Getchell "Evie"

THE CHILDREN'S BOOK is immense, immense not only in terms of its 675 pages of content but immense in its vast and expansive use of theme and storytelling. I found it to be brilliant as it is huge. The reader should allow plenty of time to fully appreciate this masterful piece of literary craftsmanship and really stick with it. I imagine there is something for everyone in this sweeping, mesmerizing tale by the Booker Prize-winning A. S. Byatt, whether it be drama, romance, fantasy, mystery, war.First and foremost, the writing is splendid and gorgeous. I love this book for the dazzling use of descriptive language alone as well as the many references to poetry, literature, theatre, art.It is also evident that Ms Byatt did much solid research to support the vast wealth of its turn-of-the-19th-century subject matter. I was fully taken by its rich atmosphere, feeling enlightened as well as entertained. History, art, politics, religion, spirituality, sexuality, sociology, madness and war... all come together cleverly and skillfully with fantasy, romance, scandal, suspense, drama, tragedy. It is a complex tale as intellectual as it is sensual and erotic. Yes, there is plenty of eroticism to be found but it is never vulgar.Ms. Byatt's finely honed attention to detail is so beautifully expressive and vivid, I felt I was there, looking at the rich world of THE CHILDREN'S BOOK through the eyes of each of its many memorable and engaging characters. This brilliant novel was more than a book for me ~ it was an experience.I have to admit though that I was at first overwhelmed by the sheer volume of this book. I even had trouble picking it up again whenever I had to put it down. But after getting through the first 100 pages or so I began to realize that I was thoroughly absorbed in its rich offerings, appreciating the many characters, each with their own engaging story, cleverly woven together to express the thought provoking themes of the novel. I was so glad I had not given up on it in the beginning.I would not recommend this novel to those readers who are daunted by books of great length or get who bored with many details but I do eagerly recommend it to those who enjoy being completely swept away in historical fiction and great storytelling. I know this fine novel will not be everyone's "cup-of-tea" but for me it was a wonderful escape into its rich and vivid world of late Victorian era/early Edwardian England. I give it 5 stars for my journey.

I'm in no hurry..

by Gaby Chapman

Put me down as one of those for whom this book was written. I was never bored; I felt as if I was IN the book as I was reading it and never had the feeling that I had to necessarily progress through it. Opening up this book at any page was like opening up a door between two very different spaces and I would just be step into it. I loved the massiveness of it, the multitude of "main" characters, the detailed descriptions of all things artistic, the historic detail, the conflict between ideals and pragmatism, the shifting sands of social change, the delicate parallels between that very specific time and place and so many others. Each sentence, each paragraph, each page was delectable to my mind. Thank you A. S. Byatt!

Frustrating, but worth it

by gammyraye

This is one of the most frustrating books I have ever read--I wanted to lose it and never find it again at one moment and to read it far into the night the next moment. It is too long (almost 900 pages in paperback); contains too many characters, themes, and story threads; and has pages and pages of historical information and accounts of plays and puppet shows which seem to have no connection to anything. And yet the plot is fascinating, and when I finished I realized all the seemingly extraneous material really does have pertinence. It turns out to be one of the best books I have read in a good while, despite all my expectations.The Children's Book tells the story of the children of several families from 1895 through the end of World War I in 1917:*Tom, Dorothy, Phyllis, Hedda, Florian, Robin, and Harry--the (supposed) children of Humphrey and Olive Wellwood. He is a political writer and she is the writer of fantasy tales for children. Her unmarried sister Violet actually does most of the mothering of the children. Free spirits.*Charles and Griselda--the children of Basil and Katharina Wellwood. He is a banker and Humphrey's brother, and she is German. Very conservative.*Julian and Florence--the children of Prosper Cain, who is an Army man and the curator of a museum. Their mother is dead. Conventional.*Geraint, Imogen, and Pomona--the children of Benedict Fludd, a mad-genius potter and his laudanum-addled wife Seraphita.Philip and Elsie Warren--the ambitious and creative lower-class children of a pottery painter.Wolfgang and Leon--the children of the German master puppeteer Anselm Stern and his wife Angela. (SPOILER ALERT)Anselm also happens to be the father of one of Olive Wellwood's children.This, then, is basically the story of how all these children with various inheritances and upbringings turn out. All the historical information pertains to the influences of the culture and the political climate at the time on their outcomes. The plays and puppet shows seem to be symbolic representations of the journeys the children take to adulthood.Few of the children turn out as the reader would anticipate, much as real-life children so often defy expectations. Free spirit parents sometimes produce responsible and conventional children. Conventional parents sometimes produce children who ignore social expectations. And sometimes parents produce children who seem like carbon copies.This novel contains so many aspects that it often becomes overwhelming. All the parts are wonderfully executed, but it sometimes seems that the author is including information for the sake of demonstrating scholarship rather than for any pertinence to her story.Although I consider this a very fine novel on the whole, I would hesitate to recommend it to just anyone. Some would love it, but most would want to throw it across the room, as I often did.

Byatt is Amazing!

by girlswithbooks "girlswithbooks"

I can think of one word to describe this book.... epic. This is an epic story. The story of WWI children spans Europe from France to Germany to England. There are many different narratives in the story so you get to see the story from many different viewpoints. I have read some reviews that found this distracting, but I enjoyed it. The plot was easy to follow and although the book is huge, it was a relatively quick read. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a great historical fiction novel. The ending was heartbreaking but the story was amazing!

I was excited to read this, but didn't care for it

by Holly "Book addict"

I love massive tomes and very detailed writing - settling in for a good, long read is one of the pleasures in life. Unfortunately, it took me several days to get through the first seventy pages before giving up. I rarely quit reading any book once I've started it, so I put it away for a few weeks and began again. Largely being an optimist, I assumed that I just wasn't in the correct mood at the time or that I just had different expectations that what the book delivered.Even with all that, I just didn't like this book at all. I don't want to discourage other readers who enjoy this type of book (and I thought I was one of those folks), but it wasn't for me. In this case, if a paragraph or two could communicate the message, the author decided three or four pages would be better. It was just too much of everything -- cast of thousands, vast amounts of minuitae, and many story lines.Some books are just plain bad and that's not what I am saying about this one. I can see an audience for this novel, but it just isn't me.

`An illusion is a complicated thing, and an audience is a complicated creature.'

by Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected"

This novel is set in late Victorian and Edwardian England (between June 1895 and May 1919) and involves the interconnected stories of three families: the Wellwoods, the Fludds, and the Cains. The novel begins when two boys find a third boy (Philip Warren) hiding in the cellar of the South Kensington Museum. It is Philip's story, including his quest to become a great potter, which anchors the novel.Art is important to each of the three families. Prosper Cain is Special Keeper of Precious Metals at the South Kensington Museum. Benedict Fludd, Cain's friend, is a potter of volatile temperament who destroys his own work at times. Olive Wellwood writes children's stories, inspired in part by her own large family. There is a tension between the positive and negative impacts of creativity - sometimes obvious (as in Fludd's destruction of his pottery) and sometimes far more subtle (Wellwood's impact on her family). It's tempting to see parallels between the changing roles of family members (especially Benedict Fludd and Olive Wellwood) and the changing shape of the society in which they live as the creativity of the late 19th and early 20th centuries gives way to war.At times I found the novel complicated: the intertwining of stories and the number of characters made it challenging. I did not find it an easy novel to read but it was ultimately both enriching and rewarding.`She thought of marching forwards and retreated.'Jennifer Cameron-Smith

Maddening Meandering

by J. L. Rubenking

This book is a disappointment, given that Byatt is usually an excellent writer. I enjoyed Possession very much, and a couple of her shorter works. Throughout the first half of the book, I awaited revelations and repercussions, and character development and change. But alas, the characters are pretty much static, even and especially when they should react, and DO something.The Wellwood family lives in a lovely estate in late Victorian England, and Olive and Humphrey raise their brood of children with a forward thinking embracing of the newest revolutionary thought from their Russian friends and the English non-comformists in their social circle. Several families are depicted here and the relationships overlap with both comfortable and uncomfortable familiarity, but the main focus is on Olive and her children as they grow. There are summer fetes and other gatherings, and adults and children mingle and put on elaborate plays and entertainments.Olive, in her downtime, also writes children's books, and continues to write each of her children a personal children's book, fantasies of elves and tiny creatures living underground in the hollows and crannies of nature. We are treated to several of those chapters early on in the book, and they are interesting and full of fairies and little folk. The tales hint at the darkness of nature and the perils even children face. Perhaps I would have enjoyed them more if they had continued through the book, enhancing the real challenges Olive's children encounter. Unfortunately, the chapters disappear as Byatt fills the book with more disturbing stuff.The seamy underside of the Victorian/Edwardian gentrified classes is exposed in this book almost exclusively in terms of sexuality. There are characters blathering of 'revolutionary' changes, the 'woman question' and the like, but not in ways that really affect the actual plot. A history lesson without much follow-through. Byatt delights mainly in exposing just how closely related her characters are to each other, and I do mean literally. Unfaithful husbands and wives, the nudist who impregnates two other young girls while not allowing his wife access to her own children from a former marriage, and the topper, a madly (mostly mad) gifted potter who hides a room full of obscene sculptures, modeled from life on his own daughters.It's hardly a wonder that the children in the various households all befriend each other and escape to school or European jaunts to get away from their parents, who are a hugely unappealing bunch. The oldest Wellwood boy, Tom, is a Peter Pan child/man who cannot fit in and constantly wanders into the woods to be alone. The oldest daughter, Dorothy, perhaps the most stable in this cast, plans to be a doctor, despite the shocking setback of discovering the truth of her parentage. Nevertheless, as time goes by, mostly in patterns that repeat with less and less charm, the children grow and World War I comes to involve them all. In the final chapters, Byatt disposes of so many characters, it's as if she forgot how to resolve the conflicts she had created and just gave up. What a letdown.

Secrets And Stories Within Secrets And Stories

by John D. Cofield

I knew I desperately wanted to read this book when its publication was first announced for two reasons: A.S. Byatt herself, an accomplished and erudite story teller, as well as its setting and subject matter. Set primarily in England between 1895 and 1919, this novel tells the story of so much that I find appealing: the Golden Age of Children's Literature, the social and artistic ferment of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, the just as tumultuous politics of those eras, and finally the tragedy of world war.The story begins with the visit of Olive Wellwood, a well regarded children's author, to the South Kensington Museum where she meets with one of its directors, Prosper Cain for information on one of her writing projects. While the adults confer, their two sons Tom Wellwood and Julian Cain wander around the museum and encounter a third boy, Philip, a highly artistic vagrant boy. From this meeting ensues a long relationship between the Wellwood and Cain families and an assortment of artists, writers, and political and social activists that lasts for nearly twenty five years.It soon becomes apparent that each character in The Children's Story has secrets and multiple stories to share. These interlock with those of other characters and allow for many connections with actual people from the time period as varied as Oscar Wilde, Emma Goldman, and J.M. Barrie. Readers familiar with the Golden Age of Children's Literature will quickly realize that Olive Wellwood is based on Edith Nesbit, and there are some other characters, like the artist Benedict Fludd, who are composites of other well known figures of the time. There are a number of summaries of historical events from the time period which help to enhance the reader's understanding of the characters' milieu.Puppet shows, masks, secret identities and alternative worlds are all major components of The Children's Story, which comes to a sad but predictable resolution in the first few months of 1919. The tale is long and complex, but it held my interest without fail. I regard this as Byatt's best book since Possession, and intend to treasure and reread it many times.

View not worth the climb

by K. L. Cotugno

The sheer heft of this book is daunting, but for those who love the genre, it is worth the time it takes to read it. The stories are engaging, and the time period brought vividly to life. However, Byatt seems to be one of those writers who, like Dickens, gets paid by the word, or in this case, the pound. The book is evidently dedicated to one of her editors, which is ironic, since it would have been a smoother read if it had been tightened up by about 200 pages.

It did not capture me...

by Laurie Fletcher "Laurie Fletcher"

This is a tough review to write. I love the writing of A.S. Byatt ("Possession" remains a highlight of my adult life) and I really, really wanted to love "The Children's Book". I liked it but it didn't transform me as did "Possession" and perhaps that's just OK. It's a pretty high bar to set to expect an author to change the world with every book. It's hard to put my finger on what was missing for me in this book but I can tell you that, from the very beginning, it did not capture me.The Wellwood family at the heart of this book is the perfect window through which to view the mature industrial revolution as it seeps into The Great War (who knew there would be enough of these to warrant enumeration?). These are the days of Peter Pan and the true elongated childhood. Olive Wellwood, a famous writer and dedicated Fabian, writes individual story books for each of her children and, in the process, unmasks the secrets of their childhood and leaves some of them too exposed to heal. As with other Byatt narratives, fairies are strongly at play here and these fairy tales juxtaposed with the grim puppet plays of the visiting German Stern family strongly foreshadow the dark stain that will soon spread over their respective childhoods and, indeed, the world.We follow the lives of the children in this doorstop of a book and the impact their childhood had on the personalities they became. Byatt does a perfect job with the slow development and apprehension that attend the unveiling of a shattering family secret and her depiction of England through some of the most intense years of her history is absorbing. I consider it some flaw in my own perceptions that I never embraced the characters.

Byatt's - "The Children's Book" and my great expectations

by L. Quido "quidrock"

"Possession: A Romance" is perhaps one of my favorite books of all time, and as I turned to "The Children's Book", I anticipated much of the same style and illuminating story that A. S. Byatt gave me in her earlier novel. Like many reviewers here, it was difficult for me to get through the new novel, and I have had to reflect for a good while on what was spectacular and what were the drawbacks of Byatt's 19th-century treatise on family life."The Children's Book" is much too long. There is intricate, slow paced detail involving the mores, the clothing and the architecture of the period. Like the poetry that elongated "Possession", the story is punctuated by long passages of stories, since Byatt has Olive Wellwood, a writer and wife with many children, extracting from the fables she writes for her own children.There is so much to admire about Byatt's latest, not the least of which is her passion for the telling of the story; she has researched the timeframe and the political and social mores of her setting with that famous intensity that she then applies to her prose. There are dozens of characters and Byatt gets into their heads and uses their thoughts to bring her surprises and colorful stories out as though they are not hers at all, but truly theirs. They delight us, they mystify us, they bring us into their world. Somehow she keeps them contemporary, while preserving their backdrop of Victoriana.Byatt's tale is extraordinarily beautiful and complex. I was glad, for some time, (because it took a long while to get through the book) to be a part of her world again. But, and this is a big drawback to her newest novel, Byatt spends an inordinate amount of time on detail, and this detail will be tedious to most readers."The Children's Book" - I think that I will improve my viewpoint of the book when, six months from now, I reread the story and use the second round to enjoy the complexities, instead of letting them exhaust me.Thank you to the Vine program for making this available to participants. It was a great opportunity!

A page turner

by Martin Greenberg

Excellent read. Wonderful characters set against a fascinating background view of England. In a real sense, a page turner.

A Fairy Story or Colorful Jumble

by Mary E. Sibley

Julian Cain and Tom Wellwood meet Philip Warren, a scruffy boy, at South Kensington Museum. Philip, running away from the pottery works, lives in the museum. Julian's father is the Special Keeper of Precious Metals. Philip makes drawings. Prosper Cain is a widower. Olive Wellwood, a fantasy writer, is married to to Humphry Wellwood, an employee of the Bank of England. Philip has a craving for solitude. The boys take Philip to meet Prosper Cain and Olive Wellwood. Olive is consulting an expert because she is in search of a story.Philip, clearly angry and talented, is to go with Tom and Olive for the weekend. Todefright, an old Kentish farmhouse, is in the Kentish weald. All of the children present, except Philip, have been brought up in an atmosphere of rational social justice. Philip falls from a bicycle landing on some garlic. It smells awful.The Wellwoods are having a Midsummer Party. Humphry and Olive married in 1880 and in 1884 they joined the newly established Fabian Society. Humphry thinks he must resign from the bank and wonders how they will pay for Tom's school. Edward Carpenter and his friend George Merrill and his cottage at Milthorpe are mentioned. He is described as an anarchist saint.The author's description of the arts and crafts movement causes this reader to believe she is present in it. By following the character Olive the author is able to portray the impulses of the creative person. For instance, it is stated that a viewing of a performance makes Olive wish to invent her own. Olive is aware that her brain has a busy inventiveness. Olive's brother drowned in a mine disaster. Formerly she won a scholarship to high school. Later she was taken out of school by an aunt and uncle and sent into service as a housemaid.When Olive and her sister Violet ran away, they ended up in the audience of one of Humphry's lectures on English literature. Olive found there the rhythms of Milton, Bunyan, Shakespeare, and Swift. Geographical designations in the book include Rye, (shades of Henry James), and Romney Marsh. Philip becomes an assistant to a temperamental master-craftsman, a gifted potter, Benedict Fludd. Fludd says that Philip has a potter's hand.The book was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and it is easy to see why. It shares some of the qualities that make POSSESSION such a fine novel. Among other things there is the complex pastiche style. If anything, it has more charm than the earlier work.Olive uses her experience of escaping the coal field to write fiction stories using Philip and his sister as models. (This is during the period when Humphry's pay has dropped after leaving the bank.) There are many complications of relationships in the story. The tone of the book is so English and so pastoral. It is a highly wrought piece of work. In some respects it resembles the film, MISS POTTER.Much of the subject matter is repugnant, but it is easily subsumed beneath a brilliant exterior of sights, sounds, feelings. In the beginning I was prepared to resist being beguiled by the rich show of tapestry-like craft, but happily I succumbed to the pleasant experience of just reading as my suspicions of being manipulated were removed. Ultimately I decided that the book's handling of moral ambiguity was excellent and fruitful. The author has synthesized effectively an incredible amount of information. As the opera people say, brava.

The changing times in England

by Michelle Boytim

Covering the period in England from the late 1800's Victorian age to the Great War (WWI), the book is centered around an extended family and those around them. Olive Wellwood is a children's book writer with a large family, with her household run by her sister, Violet. The book is sweeping in scope, covering in detail, elements of the historical period and times.The story mostly focuses on Olive, and her two older children, Tom and Dorothy and has the key themes of the parent-child bond and family versus art. The introduction of the orphan Phillip, who has been hiding away in the Victoria and Albert museum, longing to "make pots", plays a key counterpoint to the more middle class Wellwood's. Olive's personal stories for each child have interesting counterpoints to the actual timeline, particularly Tom's story of adventures underground which parallel with the trenches of war later in the story. While I was not particularly drawn to any character, Dorothy was the most intriguing to me, with Tom being the most tragic character.This is not a fast storyline. While there are elements of tragedy, and shocking incidents, the historical time period is the star of this novel, with the characters showing us the changing times and mores.

Half-way through, more later

by Miss Grimke

Bookmark shows I'm halfway through this book and if I recommend it for no other reason I recommend it for this: If I read it before I go to sleep I have excellent dreams.

Missed the mark with me

by Nicole Bradshaw "Nicole Bradshaw"

When I saw that A.S. Byatt, author of Possession (which I absolutely loved), had a new book coming out, I rushed right out to get it in hardback. I set aside an entire lunch hour to get started on it. I came to the experience with such high hopes. However, once I got the book home, I found it much easier to put down than Possession.Here's the skinny: The Children's Book is peopled with a large array of characters. First, the reader is introduced to the Wellwood family. Olive, a successful children's author, and Humphrey, a banker, tend to a boisterous group of children at an idyllic estate. We also meet Benedict Fludd, a celebrated potter, and his assorted family. And we also meet a motley group of other key characters - puppeteers, schoolmates, mistresses, museum directors, etc. In fact, there are so many characters, whose story lines are picked up and dropped again throughout the book, that it is difficult to care incredibly deeply about any of them. I think the book would have benefitted from a slightly narrower character focus.Byatt's writing is, as always, lush with description and detail. However, I think she almost goes overboard with the research sometimes. Some sections began with several pages of "setting the cultural/political scene," which felt to me more like a display of her contextual knowledge rather than elegant backgrounding.And, honestly, the plot just doesn't move along. The book is more of a character study, and a detailed view of a certain time and place, than anything. And while that is perfectly acceptable on its own merits, it's quite different from the gripping revelation found in Possession. Though not without its own charms, the new novel is a different kind of book altogether.Overall, though I did find parts of the book enjoyable, it's slow going to read, and the payoff may not be worth it. As long as you are aware of what you're getting into, forge ahead. If a 700-page period/character study is not your cup of tea, however, look elsewhere.

Vine-land VI: The Children's Book

by PolarisDiB "dibness"

Following many interconnected characters in pre-WWI Britain, A.S. Byatt's new novel is about the power of a person's mindset, whether that mindset involves their active imaginations or political beliefs, passions or integrity.The novel is deeply invested in almost every character's growth and mindset, so it can be a little slow reading in parts. I have found in my reading of it that some characters interested me more than others, causing me to want to get back to certain story arcs faster than others. I do not believe this will be a problem for the typical reader, however, as almost all of the characters are fully fleshed out, real people who you can easily understand even if you do not agree with them. The novel has unparalleled empathy for all of its characters, it just suffers for pacing by sometimes going down an almost roll-call form of every present characters' reactions to a certain event, piece of art, etc.--PolarisDiB

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

by rainpebble

The Children's Book is an ambitious work. It is full of ideas, thoughts, imaginings, daydreams, experiments, everything you can imagine right up through to the end.We begin in the late 1800s in a museum in London, where a young lad Philip, who wants to work in pottery and clay is found by the museum curate's son & his friend, sketching the museum's metalwork and living secretly in the shallows of the the museum. The friend of the curate's son just happens to be the son of an acclaimed author of children's books, Olive Wellwood. Soon Philip is apprenticed to Wellwood family friend Benedict Fludd, a master of pottery of the day.The progressive, (new age, even then), Wellwoods both writers have seven children: Tom, Dorothy, Phillis, Hedda, Florian, Robin and Harry.Olive's sister Violet lives with them and cares for the children and runs the house as both Olive & her husband Humphry are so very, very busy writing. They have a great many artictic friends who come, visit, and stay. Putting on workshops and doing plays, puppet shows and the like. They are all, parents, children and friends an energetic bunch bursting with new ideas and beliefs (socialism, suffragism, anarchism, free love), and Byatt's characters are excited & willing participants. Joining in all of the lecturing, writing, workshops, and regrouping when the fallout indicates a lack of success with that particular attempted idea.Olive, seems to be the great earth mother represents that brand of early-20th century literary imagination that found its best expression in works for children. What could be more wonderful than a mother who writes personalized fairy tales for each of her children? Except, of course, that fairy tales can be the darkest kind there are, and in the case of Olive (and Fludd and most of the other creative types portrayed here), a life in the arts has psychic costs. Often it's the next generation that pays. Eventually the children, in particular Olive's daughter Dorothy, eclipse their parents in the plot of the story and if sides are to be taken, we definitely take theirs, the children's.It is easy to get lost in this book but one is never tempted to put it down. Nearing the end of the book, the author takes the Wellwoods, their children & friends who have been living in a kind of make believe world, with offshoot story-lines of abuse and incest among others out of their idyllic lives and entrenches them within the real world of WWI, it's muddy, bloody trenches and the horrors of the hospitals and makeshift hospitals. Lives are shattered and our author writes of this in a very unsentimental manner.There were occasions while reading the book that I became engulfed with the reality of the era and quite forgot the characters for a bit. But just for a bit. Then I was back in their world, their tragedies, their successes, thought they be small or large.This was a very satisfying read for me and when I had finished it I lay the book down and said to myself: So that's what all the shouting has been about. I must say also that I had never heard of the Fabian Society nor a great many other sociological groups prior to this read and it made me hungry to find out more about these groups. The Children's Book was a 5+ out of 5 star read for me and I very highly recommend it.

Buried beneath is a nugget of a story about families

by Reader from Singapore

A S Byatt is a Serious Literary Novelist, not a popular fiction writer, so it's hardly surprising that many readers have found her latest Booker shortlisted title "The Children's Book (TCB)" to be difficult and impenetrable. Her famous "Possession" may boast a more distinct and compelling storyline - it was made into a Hollywood movie minus the arty trappings and so has acquired a place in the popular imagination - though that doesn't alter the fact that readers have to negotiate past pages thick with poetry and art history to get to the plot. And it's no different with TCB, except that it's that much harder to summarise in a sentence or two what the book is about.Unlike "Possession", there are no real main characters or protagonists in TBC. Rather, the book is about a certain artistic community comprising writers, intellectuals, museum curators, potters, artisans, etc belonging to a particularly confusing time in English history (early 20th century) marked by a sudden great gush of social movements drawing attention to the plight of the poor and issues of universal suffrage, the emancipation of women, the provision of education and healthcare to the masses. As girls from privileged homes start to think of proper careers for themselves and boys from underprivileged homes dare to dream beyond the dictates of their own class restrictions, the looming dark forces of imperialism would collide and throw their orderly world into turmoil culminating in the First World War.Against this backdrop, Byatt weaves together an intriguing yet chilling tale of families (eg, the Wellwoods, Fludds, Cains, etc) to reveal a sordid underbelly of disturbing lies and secrets that remain firmly underground beneath the midsummer nights tale type fanstasy world they create with their regular performances in each other's splendid homes until the inevitable happens. The truths about their lives are instead hinted at if not conveyed through the stories fantasy book writer Olive Wellwood writes for each of her children. Interestingly enough, overarching Byatt's story about families in the Edwardian era is another story of European royals bound inextricably to each other by blood about to confront the contradictions between their imperialistic ambitions and their ties.Buried beneath a deep morass of cultural and social details that would mean nothing to readers unfamiliar with European and English history is a nugget of a story waiting to be uncovered. Trouble is, Byatt couldn't decide whether TCB should be a social and cultural treatise of early 20th England or a fictional story about families. Neither fish nor fowl, TCB falls between two stools and loses a wider readership it clearly merits. Casual readers will skim or skip whole paragraphs (sometimes even pages) to track the storyline. Less patient readers might simply give up without finishing the book. A pity, cos a worthwhile story lies buried beneath the mountain of artifacts.I enjoyed TCB very much because I was mentally prepared for the challenge and determined to finish it. It is nevertheless not for the casual reader or the fainthearted. Difficult but worthwhile.

Fractured Storylines (2.5 stars)

by Richard Pittman

The Children's Book has a lot of great parts. For me, the parts just didn't come together coherently.Mostly set just before World War I, it centers on several families mostly in England though some of the stories take place in Germany. These are stories about artists and how they connect to each other.Writers, artisans, puppeteers, anarchists, the Fabian society, sexual freedom, nature, the painful existence of artists. Each of the individual storylines are interesting. Most of the characters are interesting.I should have really liked this book but the storylines were so fractured that after a while I found it difficult to care. The stories were incomplete and Byatt interrupeted them prematurely making it furstrating to read. Byatt had many great ideas but the need to pack so many of them into the book diminished the whole. There is a great book somewhere inside this book but this wasn't edited nearly enough.I expect many people will enjoy the book but I found it to be hard work. It took me a very long time to complete this.I don't recommend The Children's Book but there was enough in here that I will pursue Byatt's work futher.

"Anyone Would Think I Was A Changeling..."

by R. M. Fisher "Ravenya"

This is an immensely difficult book to review, simply because the vast majority of casual readers probably *won't* automatically enjoy "The Children's Book." It is a dense, complex, ambitious, challenging novel that is not so much a story as it is a detailed portrait of a family, a community and an era. Stretching from 1895 to 1919 and set predominantly in the Kent countryside, A.S. Byatt's saga contains no central character or predominant plotline; instead it chronicles the historical, cultural and social context of the Victorian/Edwardian period and the effect it has on three families and their assorted associates.Humphrey and Olive Wellwood live in an idyllic cottage called Todefright, where they host midsummer parties and watch as their brood of children (with special emphasis on their two eldest Tom and Dorothy) play in the sun. Olive is a successful children's writer, seeking new inspiration from Prosper Cain, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, who in turn has two children: Julian and Florence. Connecting these two families with the third is Philip Warren, a lower-class runaway hiding in the museum, who is discovered by Tom and Julian and sent to become an apprentice to Benedict Fludd, a manic potter who lives with his vague, inert daughters, Imogen and Pomona. Secrets abound in each household: infidelities, political agendas, hidden pasts, simmering hatreds and changeling children.At the book's core are the various relationships between parents and children; whether they be foster parents, illegitimate children, unwanted pregnancies, secret parentages, or even a play on the term that artists often use in referring to their work as "their children." In most cases, it is this need to *create* that drives the characters, and how that which is created can be exploited, betrayed or destroyed. Olive tries to reach her children through personalized fairytales, whilst simultaneously drawing on them for inspiration; in a much darker version of this somewhat parasitical relationship, Fludd pulls creativity out of his daughters in a horrific way, and is forced to conceal the finished products. Creativity seems to have a destructive force, both on the artist and the muse, just as the parent neglects or preys on the lives of the younger generation.The consequences are dire: Tom is caught in stasis between childhood and adulthood; Imogen and Pomona are reduced to listless, lifeless shells. In their turn, all the children of the novel grow from the innocence of childhood into gradual disillusionment and frustration as they experience their awakening to the world; most having been emotionally, mentally and physically sapped by the older generation. The inevitability of the WWI on the horizon comes almost (and oddly) as a relief.As always, Byatt's distinctive prose is beautifully rendered, and used to its best effect when dealing with the thoughts and ideas of the extensive cast. The sentences are short and somewhat choppy, lending them an immediacy and spontaneity that initially feels too abrupt, but soon becomes natural. The narrative flows in and out of different minds, and point of views switch from character to character mid-paragraph, and sometimes even mid-sentence. It all gives off the impression that the reader is an intimate and yet distant observer to these people's lives; privy to their day-to-day occurrences and yet cut off from several of the darkest secrets which are eluded to, but never elaborated on in their entirety. We are given glimpses into their secret worlds, but no clear answers.Although the sheer number of characters is rather overwhelming at first, I felt a slow but steady pull into their lives, regarding who they are and what shaped them: be it other family members, the art that they create, or the period of history they live in. I've seen this book described as a "cultural study" and that's a fairly succinct way of putting it. An author of historical fiction has the task of making the past come alive, and I think Byatt succeeds in making her characters relatable to a contemporary audience, whilst still keeping them products of their time in terms of their expectations, thought-patterns and behaviour. The Victorian era was a period of stifling repression and the inevitable uprising that followed, as movements of the anarchists and suffragettes stir things up, and the ideologies of sexuality and class differences up-heave the social norms.Byatt examines how this political backdrop of the artistic and political life of Europe can affect a single individual, and in this effort she certainly shows her research. There are huge blocks of information and exposition that detail the historical context that the characters inhabit, with extensive commentary on political issues, vast tracts of dialogue from speeches on various ideologies, and short appearances from the likes of J.M. Barrie and Oscar Wilde.This is where "The Children's Book" will divide viewers. It is a slow-paced, meandering read, told in excessive detail. There is not an outfit, a meal, a puppet show, or a work of art that goes by without it being described down to the last nuance. To be honest: yes, it *does* detract from the story. In order for the reader not to miss the contextual symbolism and thematic depth, Byatt makes sure to list ALL of it, and much of the detail on clothing and architecture is simply superfluous. Many unprepared readers might find themselves rushing through the details in order to get to a plot that simply isn't coming. For better or worse, the details ARE the plot, linked inextricably with the character studies and the overarching subject matter.Needless to say, some readers will be more patient than others. The family drama is infinitely more interesting than the history lesson, but toward the end of the novel, both aspects start to tally up to the same page-count. I have to admit, I skimmed at times.Another aspect worth mentioning is that the blurb is somewhat misleading in its mention of WWI, accidentally giving off the impression that the war is a significant part of the book. In actuality, the war begins when the story is about to close: although several closing chapters provide details on the fates of various characters during the fighting, it swiftly skips ahead to a post-war coda. That is not to say that the war segment is mishandled (it is tragically appropriate given the way the "children" of the title meet their futures), only that the book description gives the war more attention than it probably should. Rest assured, this is *not* a war story.There also seems to be a growing tendency to compare this book favourably with Byatt's most famous novel:Possession: A Romance, with the general assertion being: "if you liked "Possession", you'll love "The Children's Book!" This advertising gimmick is another misnomer. It does not necessarily follow that if you enjoyed the previous, you'll like the latter. Though it is written in the same delicate style and with the same reliance on fairytales and myths to provide thematic resonance, "Possession" was essentially a romance and a historical mystery. "The Children's Book" is quite different, with vastly different aims in mind, and whereas "Possession" closed on hope and bittersweetness, this book is markedly more subdued and desultory.I feel as though I haven't given this a "good" review when in actuality I immensely enjoyed this novel. I was moved by the characters, fascinated by the style and intrigued by much (though not all) of the detail. It is however, most certainly not for everyone; it demands your full attention, as well as a heck of a lot of patience that some may feel is tested on a novel that not only takes its time, but which concludes on a rather open, indecisive note. Hopefully this review will help you decide whether or not it's for *you*.

Fabulous . . . and then?

by Roger Brunyate "reader/writer/musician"

I first drafted my review of this enormous novel when I was about two-thirds of the way through. My title, then simply "Fabulous!", was both an evaluation and a description. It described my rapture at the first half of the book at least, even though my first euphoria was gradually replaced by a more intellectual interest. And it celebrated the book itself, a novel clearly of Victorian size and scope but without Victorian weight, borne aloft in a fascination with children's stories, make-believe, and romance. Byatt has always been interested in romance, especially romance with Victorian roots; it was the essence of her Man Booker prizewinning novelPOSSESSION, for instance. She has also become explicitly interested in children's stories; her most recent collection,LITTLE BLACK BOOK OF STORIES, is billed as "fairy tales for grown-ups." Sometimes very much for grown-ups; the author seems especially fascinated by the danger inherent in such stories, where the merely scary passes over into the downright traumatic; those who know the sinister eroticism of the storytelling inBABEL TOWER, for instance, will not be surprised.The novel opens in what would become the Victoria and Albert Museum, where a young boy, Philip Warren, a runaway from child labor in the potteries, has taken refuge in a hidden chamber in the labyrinthine basement, emerging only to draw the objects on display -- for despite his early experiences, he has an acute eye and a love for well-made things. He attracts the attention of Olive Wellwood, a children's book author who has come to the museum seeking inspiration, and she takes him to stay with her family at Todefright in Kent (wonderful name!). Olive is a refugee from a mining community herself, and many of her stories are about dispossessed children and underground realms, so Philip's situation strikes a chord. He arrives in time for the Wellwoods' Midsummer party, where he will meet the large cast of children (and as many adults) whose lives will be followed over the next 650 pages.Although beginning in the Victorian age, this is the 1890s, the end of the century. The novel's characters are not merchant princes and defenders of Empire, but artists, craftsmen, eccentrics, socialists, suffragists, pamphleteers, and nature worshipers. Byatt precisely evokes the liberal fringe of society reacting against Victorian industrialization, militarism, and commerce -- especially through the making of art. Philip, for instance, is soon introduced to Benedict Fludd, a temperamental genius who runs a pottery in the desolate Romney Marshes, where the boy gets a chance to produce original work of his own. Byatt, who taught at an art school in earlier life, has long had an interest in the visual arts, and one of the glories of this book are the objects that she conjures with such skill that you marvel at their originality and beauty.Fairy tales have a way of touching on matters that children do not consciously understand, and as the novel probes backwards some very dark secrets come painfully into the light. But primarily the book moves forward; children grow up, lose their innocence, move into a world where fables can no longer sustain them. Many of the outcomes are happy, but with the new century the world itself is moving into a time of mourning a lost innocence that perhaps never existed. It is the age of children's stories; Kenneth Grahame (THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS), James Barrie (PETER PAN), and others were writing, perhaps in retreat from what they saw around them. Byatt handles the historical overview well, but there are places where she becomes more historian than novelist; the chapters describing the Paris Exposition of 1900 or the Munich cabaret scene of a few years later, brilliant as they are, almost lose the thread of the narrative, and perhaps there are too many famous people making convenient cameo appearances: Oscar Wilde, Auguste Rodin, Marie Stopes, and Emma Goldman, to name but a few. By the last third of the novel, the characters seem to be moved more by the tides of history than by their own volition. And the First World War is almost too easy a device for tying up the numerous narrative loose ends -- though Byatt handles the final pages with all her accustomed grace.Behind Byatt's childlike charm there is also a smoldering anger, especially when she writes about women -- for this was also watershed era for feminism. Wealthy or poor, married or single, all her female characters seem to be looking for some truer realization of the self than society will easily allow them. One determines to become a doctor; another finds independent success as an artist. Two others go up to Newnham College, Cambridge, as Byatt herself did; there is a quality of strong personal conviction here, as a battle that needed to be fought then and must still be fought now. Indeed the whole novel, whose scope cannot be captured in a short review, seems the summation not only of Byatt's immense scholarship, but also her passion as an advocate of personal freedom. Words are her weapon, and she knows the power of story-telling to convey things that lie deeper than facts. But she also knows that some facts lie beyond the reach of stories, and that the writer may harm almost as easily as she can heal. Neither of the fictional authors portrayed in this book come over entirely as positive influences, and the latter part of the novel is almost a demonstration of the limitations of fiction. But also of its power.

Well-wrought historical fiction, with many fascinating, robustly drawn characters and lots of interesting detail re the age

by Rose Oatley

This was a well-wrought historical fiction of families in late Victorian and Edwardian England. The characters are involved with Fabianism and the arts and crafts movement, and the novel well depicts impacts of those movements on the emotional and moral life of the characters. Like pre-Raphaelite art, several of the characters are depicted as simultaneously sensitive, vigorous and corrupt, but objectively so, not with the creepy esthetic admiration for that mix that characterized the age. The story sometimes get close to potboiler territory, with too much transgressive sex to be quite believable, but it's not done in a lurid way. There is a large cast of well-defined characters, and their human individuality gives the story spark and interest, which also is sustained by lots of engaging historical matter, e.g. about the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris (Palace of Electricity, dancer Loe Fuller, Siegfried Bing's Art Nouveau pavilion), the building of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the English suffragette movment, Peter Pan. I listened to it as an audio book, and that may have ameliorated the great length some reviewers found tedious; listening, I found it a good, long story, interesting at every point and moving well.

Awfully boring most of the way through the book

by Schmerguls "schmerguls"

I read this because it won the James Tait Black fiction prize for 2009, and because I was much impressed by Byatt's book, Possession, which I read 14 Nov 1997. For much of the book I was totally bored, as the characters worked on pots, wrote and worked on a theatrical production, and many of the characters did stupid and uninterestng things. Finally, toward the the end of the novel, there were interesting references to the fight for women suffrage, and very poignant and awful accounts of the horrors of the Great War. The period covered by the novel is from about 1885 to 1919. The final pages are much more fast-moving than the excruciatingly tiresome events recited in the major portion of the book, which I had to force myself to read even though it was so boring. But, as usual, I am glad I kept reading because the final portion of the book was at times movingly poignant.

Beautifully done, if a bit dense...

by S. Henkels

How can you miss with a super and timeless journey thru the UK and a most singular family between about 1890 and 1920. We journey thru just about any and all ideas, philosopies, and life stlyes as we read through this book, a towering novel if there ever was one.. Perhaps too much, and maybe too dense for someome (like this reviewer), who likes to breeze thru his books. But that is just a personal problem, not to be confused with the vast spector of this book!

The Children's Book: Too Cluttered, Too busy--Too bad....

by T. M. Johnson "TMJ"

Without a doubt one of my favorite books is A.S. Byatt's POSSESSION. Although their lives were two centuries apart, I connected with the four main characters and marveled at the skill with which Byatt shifted seamlessly between the 19th and 20th Centuries to tell their stories. Byatt's latest book, however, was a disappointment. Perhaps I expected too much from a novelist with a Man-Booker award to her credit. With THE CHILDREN'S BOOK Byatt comes up short. I think she could have done better.The problem with Byatt's novel, whether intentional or not, was the novelist attempted an epic but lacked the story to pull it off: enough characters, to be sure, but not enough story to go around. Byatt has a penchant for ornamentation (at which she excels), but in this novel the reader founders in it. Her descriptive frou-frou overshadows both character and story. Hardly is there a formal function that doesn't present as a fashion show: we are introduced to each outfit as if it were read by the runway supervisor, accessories and fabric included. A seminar in china plate and glassware precedes the menu at each dinner function, even including the floral designs on the flatware.And then there's the history lesson. The reader must suffer through a course in late 19th, early 20th Century English and European history, both political and cultural, from the Paris Grande Exposition in 1900 to the armistice ending WWI. Byatt has done her research well but is it necessary to flaunt her effort to the reader? Just tell the story or sign on at Oxford as a history professor, please.If there is a main character, she may be Olive Wellwood, a writer of children's fantasy. Her fictive mind whirls with story after story about fairies or netherworld creatures. Unlike E.T.A. Hoffman or the Brothers Grimm, however, Olive finishes only one story. Like her fictional author, Byatt herself is prolific with stories, but these, too, in many cases leave the reader short changed. The adults and children of five families are each given a thin strand of story (much like the fine string on one of character Anselm Stern's marionettes), but the reader wants more. We learn to whom the English poet Rupert Brooke loses "his heterosexual virginity" (Ka Cox, in case you didn't know) but are left to guess why Imogen Fludd can't go home again; why Imogen's younger sister Pomona is a chronic sleepwalker. And just why Olive's favorite son Tom drowns himself is left to the reader's imagination or Psych. 101. Novelist and cad Herbert Methley espouses free thinking (aka "free love") among women in his lectures and practices what he preaches by seducing Olive Wellwood, Elsie Warren, and Florence Cain.Florence's brother Julian has a passion for beautiful boys throughout most of the novel but as the book concludes, he appears enamored of Griselda Wellwood. Did Julian grow out of it and become a man? Methley sires two illegitimate children by the latter two young women and just falls off the page somewhere along the way. Conveniently WWI dispatches four more characters. No need to construct more story for them.What a reader wants from a novelist is a real story and real characters to make it move. We need to care about these characters, too: either love them or hate them. When we care no more about the suicide death of an innocent, benign young man than we do about the death by self-drowning of a sexual psychopath artist, something has gone sadly amiss. In THE CHILDREN'S BOOK A.S. Byatt tries to tell the story of a crowd, and unfortunately the reader gets lost in it.

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